Yes, It’s Israeli Apartheid. Even Without Annexation

Palestinians climb the outer wall of the al-Montar, or ''Karni',' crossing east of Gaza City. Mohammed Zaanoun/Active Stills/Al Jazeera

JVL Introduction

An opinion piece in Israel’s Premier liberal daily, Haaretz doesn’t pull its punches

Its author, Michel Sfard, a legal activist in Israel, writes about the Israeli apartheid regime:

“Apartheid was made a crime so as to defend the heart of human morality as defined after World War II: the notion of our common humanity. A regime that denies and subverts this idea is an illegitimate regime that must be brought to an end.
Not all of us Israelis are guilty of the crime of apartheid, but we are all responsible for it, and it is our duty to stop the crime being committed in our name…”

The article deserves wide circulation.

But beware: if you link to it you might find yourself at the end of a Labour Party Notice of Investigation…

This article was originally published by Haaretz on Thu 9 Jul 2020. Read the original here.

Yes, It’s Israeli Apartheid. Even Without Annexation

July 1 passed without an annexation, as have the following days. Maybe we’re witnessing the evaporation of the right’s most audacious policy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a policy that Israel’s biggest supporters have warned will turn it into an apartheid state. Does the removal of annexation from the agenda also remove the danger of apartheid?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. In recent months, I have studied the issue in depth and, in a legal opinion I authored for the Yesh Din rights group, I came to a disheartening conclusion on this term’s relevancy for describing the type of control wielded by Israel in the West Bank. Yes, even without annexation.

The word “apartheid” is used in various ways in different contexts; the meaning of the term in the public arena isn’t identical to its meaning in political science, history and law.

In the legal sphere, “apartheid” is a term for a type of regime and an international crime. Once an ideology of a regime in a specific time and place in the 20th century, apartheid is now a term for an international crime constituting a crime against humanity. The crime of apartheid is defined in two international conventions; one is the Rome Statute, which codifies the activities of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Though apartheid’s origin is historically linked to the racist regime in South Africa, it is now an independent legal concept with a life of its own that can exist without being founded on racist ideology. The crime of apartheid is defined as “inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

In other words, apartheid is a regime that, using all the tools at its disposal – law, policy, practice – creates the superiority of one group and imposes inferiority on another, usually manifested in institutional discrimination regarding rights and resources. Contrary to popular belief, in international law, a racial group is defined in accordance with sociopolitical classifications, not biological-genetic ones, thus the definition encompasses national or ethnic origin. It’s not enough to impose inferiority on such a group; a condition for committing the crime is that the superiority is not temporary but meant to be permanent.

Hence, international law criminalizes “inhumane acts” committed against the inferior group with the aim of preserving the superior group’s control over it. You’d have to turn out the lights, plug your ears and close the shutters to evade the conclusion that the Israeli regime in the West Bank is an apartheid regime and that annexation would only deepen and expand it.

Shocking statistic

For the past 53 years, Israel has held the West Bank in a military occupation. Every occupation, including Israel’s, is by nature a system of forcibly controlling people whose civil rights are suspended, who are not eligible to vote, be elected and be represented in the institutions where their future is determined.

But Israel chose to colonize the territory with its citizens; over five and a half decades, hundreds of thousands of them have settled there. Thus arose a situation in which two groups live under the same regime, one with rights and privileges, political power and representation, and one with no political presence whatsoever in the institutions that govern it.

The result is exactly what the prohibition against building settlements was meant to prevent: directing all the territory’s resources to the occupying group at the expense of the occupied community. Thus, over the years, 99.76 percent of public lands allocated by Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank have served Israeli purposes, with less than a quarter of 1 percent allocated for Palestinian use. This shocking statistic is all the more distressing when you consider that, at the same time, Israel dispossessed Palestinian communities of more than a million dunams (247,000 acres) of land that were in use by them and slated for their development.

Since 1967, 130 settlements (and about another 100 outposts) have been built in the West Bank, and aside from a neighborhood for Bedouin who were forcibly evicted from the Mishor Adumim area, and the city of Rawabi, which Israel allowed the Palestinian Authority to build, no new localities have been established for Palestinians. Palestinian communities in sparsely populated areas that Israel set its sights on became a target for a policy of uprooting, carried out by a failure to grant construction permits and by frequent demolitions (mainly in the South Hebron Hills, the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem area).

Israelis enjoy generous water allocations, franchises to quarry natural resources and access to natural springs, archaeological sites and nature reserves. Along with all this, Israel created a dual system of law in which one law applies to a Palestinian and another to an Israeli. The Israelis enjoy the benefits and protections of much of modern Israeli law, while Palestinians struggle under the weight of oppressive military injunctions.

Many inhumane acts

Thus, Palestinians do not have the right to demonstrate, but settlers do. Thus, an Israeli who gets in trouble with the law will be tried in a civil court where their right to due process is guaranteed, while their Palestinian neighbor accused of the same crime will be tried in a military court, where the proceedings are not even conducted in their language. Thus an Israeli is free to travel abroad, while a Palestinian needs a permit from the army.

Every policy of dispossession, every practice of (physical and legal) separation, every prevention of development and every forced transfer of Palestinians constitutes “inhumane acts” as seen in the definition of the crime of apartheid. All are intended to permanently establish the regime of control over and oppression of the Palestinians and have nothing to do with security – the basic Israeli excuse for every violation of Palestinian rights.

As a whole, Israel’s actions in the West Bank since 1967 provide solid evidence of the intention to perpetuate Israeli control over the territory, and thus over the people in it. If this had to be proved in court, it would be considered an easy case.

And if Israel’s deeds weren’t enough, they have been joined by words in recent years. The official policy of striving for annexation, which came out of the closet after Donald Trump moved into the White House, shatters the alibi that until 2015 was brandished by Israel’s governments to refute the accusation of apartheid: We have no intention or desire to rule over the Palestinians; the situation is temporary.

This has always been the claim – that as soon as there is a partner, we will negotiate, we will reach an agreement, and we will bid the Palestinians farewell. Right? Wrong. Once Israel began officially striving for annexation – that is, for perpetuating its rule by force – it lost this meager alibi, which could hardly cover for all its actions in any case.

Apartheid was made a crime so as to defend the heart of human morality as defined after World War II: the notion of our common humanity. A regime that denies and subverts this idea is an illegitimate regime that must be brought to an end.

Not all of us Israelis are guilty of the crime of apartheid, but we are all responsible for it, and it is our duty to stop the crime being committed in our name – for our sake, for the sake of future generations, and for the sake of a future based on the fundamental Jewish idea that every human being is created in God’s image.

Michael Sfard, a human rights lawyer, is the legal adviser to the rights group Yesh Din.


Comments (8)

  • Harry Law says:

    Excellent article, occupation is perfectly legal so long as it is only temporary, thus the occupation of conquered territory after a war such as happened when Germany was defeated, but because Israel has occupied Palestinian territories for 53 years and has no intention of leaving then de facto annexation has already happened. The settlement enterprise is flourishing, another grave war crime in breach of the Geneva conventions, the Rome statute [ICC] and in the opinion of the World Court [ICJ The Wall Case 2003] by 15 Judges to 0 found to be illegal. The Israelis are storing up a world of hurt which will bite them hard in the future.

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    Great article, and I can – and will – link to it because I can’t be thrown out of a party of which I am not a member – what a privilege!

  • It’s so sad to fear sharing the truth. What has become of democracy? Will we ever see one?

  • Philip Ward says:

    The article has interesting and useful information, but I am not convinced by either the definition of Apartheid that is used (even if it is has origins in the International Criminal Court), or by the implication – the discussion being confined to the West Bank – that Apartheid doesn’t exist within the 1948 borders.

    The definition above says nothing about whether the intention to maintain permanent, systematic oppression and domination is enshrined in law or not. I would say that institutional racism is permanent, systematic oppression and that there is an intention to maintain it, despite the hand-wringing of sections of the ruling class. That is the situation in Britain and the United States. Of course, both still apply racist laws, especially concerning immigration (and – increasingly – voting rights in the USA, and possibly here soon), but I think there is still a difference with Israel. The USA – when it had a more systematic set of racially exclusive laws – could possibly have been classed as an Apartheid state as well.

    Internally, Israel has an Apartheid system too. The recent article on the JVL web site by Jonathan Cook on the Jewish National Fund is enough to show that. Israel defines itself as “the” Jewish state, which gives the game away. This is important, as it raises questions about the legitimacy of the state and the Zionist project.

  • Vera Lustig says:

    Cogent article. In a way, we Diaspora Jews are also responsible for this situation, given that, as Philip Ward points out above (11 July at 09:35), Israel is “the” Jewish State. This creation of an apartheid state is being done in all our names. Indeed, calling Israel “the Jewish State” helps deflect criticism, as any adverse comments can be deemed “anti-Semitic”.

    Things have come to a pretty pass when Labour Party members are afraid to speak out. If my activism costs me my Labour-Party membership, so be it.

  • Mark Francis says:

    I find it disgraceful that you often get a more balanced view of the British “anti-Semitism” issue from the Israeli press – particularly Ha’aretz – than from the British press. This is because the British press couldn’t give a toss about anti-Semitism, but do want to stitch up the Left of the Labour Party

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    Anyone who pines for a return to the Right in the Labour Party should wach the two documentaries currently being shown on the BBC, One is about Murdoch and the other about Iraq and the aftermath of the invasion in 2003. Has the BBC deliberately shown these programmes together? They are linked. New Labour prostrated itself before Murdoch in order to gain power. He took advice form him about invading iraq. This was the consequence of a move to the Right. The horrors inflicted on the Iraqi people are partly at least the fault of a LABOUR Prime Minister. He is respnsiblle for the current situation in the Middle East and the rise of ISIS. New Labour could have changed our country forever with its huge majority. Instead it chose to further strengthen Thatcherite neo-liberalism. The austerity of the last 10 years is partly a result of that decision. I am ashamed to say Blair was member of my Party. He is national disgrace. John Major was a far better man when he showed Murdoch the door for demanding a change of policy. Those members who want a return to “moderate” policies should take note of what happened. Do they want a similar Labour Government? Do they want a Party that will not implement change? What is the point of such a Government? It is no use gaining power if power is not used for real change. I voted for Starmer but I have real doubts already about the direction the Party is taking

  • DJ says:

    Surely the term “apartheid” applies to the totality of the Palestinian territories controlled by the Israeli state.It’s scope can not be limited just to the West Bank . The position of Palestinians living in Israel are not identical to the position of Palestinians living in the “Occupied Territories”. However they are both the product of a system of Jewish settler colonialism established at their expense.

Comments are now closed.